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Dr James Cronin (second from left), Dr Enrico Andreoli (second from right) and Dr Alvin Orbaek White (right) at a Westminster reception for all the participants in the Royal Society pairing scheme

Dr James Cronin (second from left), Dr Enrico Andreoli (second from right) and Dr Alvin Orbaek White (right) at a Westminster reception for all the participants in the Royal Society pairing scheme

A trio of Swansea University scientists swapped their lab coats for legislation when they spent a week in Westminster at the Houses of Parliament and Whitehall. 

The visit, which took place last month, was part of a unique pairing scheme run by the Royal Society — the UK’s national academy of science — with support from the Government Office of Science.

Dr Enrico Andreoli, an associate professor at the University’s Energy Safety Research Institute (ESRI), his colleague senior lecturer Dr Alvin Orbaek White (ESRI) and Dr James Cronin, associate professor of biomedical sciences in Swansea University Medical School, were among just 30 UK academics elected to attend.

They were each able to shadow an MP or civil servant to learn about their work as well as attending seminars, mock Select Committee hearings and panel discussions about how evidence is used in policy making.

Dr Andreoli said: “Having three academics from the same institution is unusual for the scheme and reflects the reputation that Swansea University enjoys.”

The trio are all members of Impackt, a multidisciplinary organisation founded by Dr Andreoli and Dr Cronin and led by Dr Dion Curry which seeks to bring together academia, industry and policymakers to improve the impact of research on wider society.

The scheme saw Dr Andreoli shadowing Gower MP Tonia Antoniazzi and he also discussed his research with Amanda Solloway, Minister for Science, Research and Innovation.

"I now have not only a much better understanding of the mechanisms and potential pitfalls of scientific evidence in policymaking, but also of how policymaking is a multifaceted process where science plays a role within a complex interaction of other important factors,” he said.

“As a scientist who wants to engage with policymakers, I have to grow a wider and more comprehensive view of national and global issues to really make a difference with my daily academic work."

Dr Cronin said the pairing scheme gave him a fantastic understanding of the machinations and minutiae of Westminster policymaking.

He said: “I shadowed Swansea West MP Geraint Davies and his team and they gave me the opportunity to experience meetings with lobbyists, sessions in the House of Commons, and Bill amendment meetings in the House of Lords.”

During a mock Select Committee he was also able to ask questions to Lord Patel, Chair of the Lords Science and Technology Committee, and MP Carol Monaghan.

The programme also included talks from representatives of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) which provided an insight into how scientists can influence policymakers under emergency situations.

He also spent time with Ms Antoniazzi in her role as chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Cancer and is looking forward to welcoming her and her Swansea West colleague to the Medical School later this year to give them a close-up experience of its cancer research network.

Meanwhile Dr Orbaek White was paired with a civil servant in the Infrastructures Project Authority (IPA), situated between the Cabinet Office, and the Treasury.

He said: “I had several meetings with staff who are dealing with the implementation of net zero carbon and decarbonisation by 2050. All the meetings were extremely illuminating.

“I learned about the role civil servants play and this gave me a greater sense of understanding of how government works. I also had the opportunity to discuss my own work and to advocate for my area of research.

“I am now very confident in the brilliance and intelligence of the UK civil service. I understand their challenges, and more importantly, I have learned more about how to frame my work in a way that can rapidly help them to carry out theirs.”

Sir Venki Ramakrishnan, President of the Royal Society, said: “It is crucial that we invest in the relationship between scientists and politicians, so that either profession can articulate and appreciate the pressures confronted by both.”

The Royal Society’s pairing scheme, which started in 2001, aims to build bridges between parliamentarians, civil servants and some of the best scientists in the UK and is now accepting applications for next year. 

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